Art, Architecture, and Ideology under Totalitarianism: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Jennie Hirsh

Art, Architecture, and Ideology under Totalitarianism: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Jennie Hirsh


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This four-week course will examine examples of art, architecture, and other forms of material culture in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Stalinist Russia as well as visual programs commissioned under the Works Public Administration in the US under the New Deal.

We’ll explore how totalitarian regimes do (and do not) shape visual culture. Before embarking on our three case studies, we will review working models of what constitutes avant-garde and modern practice. We’ll consider these regimes’ influence on the art, architecture, world's fairs, and other forms of material culture produced within the greater context of European modernism. Throughout the course, we will analyze both the aestheticization of politics and the politicization of aesthetics. Lastly, the course will include a brief consideration of visual culture in the U.S. contemporary to the three totalitarian regimes under investigation.

Led by an expert on interwar art and architectural history, Jennie Hirsh, this interactive course will analyze the relationship between state mandates and the visual culture connected to everyday life in the early twentieth century. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the similarities and differences between the art and propaganda at work in these societies.

Lecture 1: Introduction to modern and avant-garde culture

This seminar will introduce participants to concepts of modern and avant-garde culture. We will explore an overview of the history of the regimes/politics under discussion through the ideas of crucial period authors, including Walter Benjamin and Clement Greenberg, as well as postwar critics who have addressed fascist aesthetics, such as Susan Sontag.

Lecture 2: Fascist Italy

This lecture will explore visual culture in Fascist Italy with examples drawn from art, architecture, world's fairs, design, and advertising. Special attention will be given to the Italian Pavilions at the Chicago and New York World's Fairs of 1933-34 and 1939, respectively, as well as the Milan Triennale of 1933 and other Italian expositions.

Lecture 3: Nazi Germany

This week will explore critical examples of Nazi propaganda that draw on both the "folk" as well as the classical world for their inspiration. Special attention will be given to the Berlin Olympics of 1936 and the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937. 

Lecture 4: Stalinist Russia

This week will consider the very avant-garde style of Soviet art, architecture, and especially poster design, as well as the more regressive forms that emerge in the latter decades of the Stalinist regime. Finally, we will spend part of the last week exploring the style of WPA-sponsored commissions in the US, many of which echo strategies of works viewed in the first three weeks of this course.

Jennie Hirsh (PhD, Bryn Mawr College) is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has held postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton and Columbia Universities, as well as pre-doctoral fellowships from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, the U.S. Fulbright commission, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Wolfsonian FIU. Hirsh has authored essays on artists including Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Yinka Shonibare, and Regina Silveira, and is co-editor, with Isabelle Wallace, of Contemporary Art and Classical Myth (Ashgate 2011).

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in the art and architecture of totalitarianism, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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